Bills' actions speak louder than words with McCoy

A crowded running back group raises some questions about the future of LeSean McCoy

Joe DiBiase
June 06, 2019 - 9:48 pm

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports

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Before you even bring it up, no I'm not hating on LeSean McCoy because he spoiled Avengers: Endgame.

Repeatedly over this offseason, the Buffalo Bills have said that they expect McCoy to be their starting running back in 2019. 

If the Bills didn't believe in McCoy as their starter or if they didn't have confidence he'd bounce back, wouldn't the Bills have done everything they've done this offseason at the position?

Frank Gore is old for the position, but was very productive last year behind an average Miami Dolphins offensive line. Miami ranked middle of the road in run blocking in both Pro Football Focus' and Football Outsider's ratings for 2018. Gore averaged a solid 4.6 yards per-carry while starting all 14 games he played.

T.J. Yeldon had 55 catches with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018, while ranking 11th in the NFL in receiving yards per-game among running backs. Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon, James Conner, Ezekiel Elliott are the caliber of backs that ranked ahead of him.

The Bills spent a third round pick on Devin Singletary. The third round is a gold mine for running backs in the draft. The last 10 running backs selected in that round before this year were Royce Freeman, D'onta Foreman, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, James Conner, Kenyan Drake, C.J. Prosise, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, David Johnson. Even if they don't turn out to be stars, third round running backs almost always get a shot to play big roles in their rookie years.

Think about what the Bills' backfield would be like if McCoy were out of the picture. A veteran in Gore splitting first and second downs with a highly drafted rookie in Singletary, while Yeldon plays third downs/passing downs. It's a completely reasonable plan for a backfield. 

It's not just about what's around him. McCoy had a bad year, and yes, a huge reason for that was how poor the offensive line was. Behind an improved five-front, McCoy looks to still have the ability to be productive. However, I don't think you can pin all his struggles on the o-line. 

McCoy still showed the ability to cut on a dime and make a defender miss in a phone booth. Where he seemingly lost a step is in the burst out of those cuts. 

Advanced metrics that account for offensive line and opponent show a drop in production as well. McCoy ranked 46th out of 47 backs to get 100 carries in Football Outsider's yards above replacement rate. 

There's also this one:

Part of the struggle is also McCoy's style. We all know he likes to make moves rather than hit the first available hole. McCoy averaged the sixth-most time behind the line of scrimmage in the NFL last season. For comparison, Frank Gore, a downhill runner, averaged the second-least time behind the line of scrimmage.

It's almost like the Bills knew all this stuff and made moves accordingly. I'm being somewhat sarcastic, but the Bills' moves this offseason would show that they don't think McCoy's struggles was just the bad offensive line.

Other NFL analysts we've had on WGR think similarly:

McCoy could absolutely be productive this year with more support around him, but why bother? You should be able to find 'just productive' somewhere else, and it looks like they have. 

The last thing I want to see in the Bills backfield this season is Singletary seeing his opportunities limited because not one, not two, but three veterans are ahead of him and have to get their touches.

A couple years ago, Kamara burst onto the scene in his rookie year with the New Orleans Saints. He had over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. Kamara had the opportunity to do that because New Orleans had just Mark Ingram in front of him on the depth chart. Adrian Peterson did start 2017 with the Saints, but was traded early in the season. 

Then, there is the matter of special teams. Generally, teams like to have at least one back on their team play special teams. The Bills used Marcus Murphy in that role last year. Murphy and Senorise Perry will fight to make the 53-man roster in a similar capacity. McCoy, Gore, and Yeldon have never played a single snap on special teams in the NFL, and Singletary didn't do it in college. If the Bills want to keep a running back for special teams, are they really going to keep five total? If so, are all going to dress on gamedays? That seems hard to believe.

There's a good chance that either McCoy, Gore, or Yeldon are not on the opening day roster.

While I don't think McCoy is the best running back on the Bills roster, I do think he'd carry the most value around the league. There are few teams that could use a starting running back, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be one of them. 

Peyton Barber and 2018 second round pick Ronald Jones lead their backfield. Barber is a former undrafted free agent, who averaged a sub-par 3.7 yards per-carry as Tampa's starter last year. Jones was a second round pick who failed to beat out a 3.7 yards per-carry runner to be the starter. In fact, Jones was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the 2018 season. He ended his rookie year with just 23 carries for 44 yards. McCoy would be an upgrade for the Buccaneers. 

My dream scenario would be to trade McCoy to Tampa for a mid-round or late-round pick, and Devin Singletary explodes in his rookie year. It's not completely unrealistic, but it's tough to see with the crowded backfield that currently exists. 

At the end of the day, the Bills can say all they want that they expect McCoy to be their lead back for 2019. Their actions would say otherwise.

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